Sermon preached by Siobhan Grimes, Regional Coordinator for Christian Aid on Sunday 5th May at the Benefice service at All Saints’, Cuddesdon.
In the beginning God created the whole world and everything in the world. When it came to create us humans God picked up a handful of soil and breathed God’s holy breath. Out of the soil became the first person, and out of the first person came men and women. God called the first-person Adam – or soil – Adam being the world for the red clay soil. And so, we came to be – people made from the red clay soil and the holy breath of God – entrusted to care for the garden, with lives dependent on produce of the earth.
After that time, a very long time later, God sent his son, to come and live and breathe and be among us and he taught us the Lord’s Prayer that has been on the lips of Christians for thousands of years. Including the words that I have been invited to reflect on today – give us today our daily bread.
Thank you for inviting me along today as a representative of Christian Aid to reflect on this line of the Lord’s Prayer.
I found a Latin American prayer that speaks to me about this line in the Lord’s prayer and has guided me through preparing my reflections and deciding which stories to share with you today. The prayer is a short one:
‘Lord, to those who are hungry, give bread. And to those who have bread, give a hunger for justice.’
This short prayer sums up the work of Christian Aid around the world, and the work of the many organisations we work alongside, as we look towards the ending of extreme poverty.
Christian Aid works in 37 countries in the world, in the poorest communities, to help people leave poverty behind. Our work is supported by churches across the UK, and while we support people of all faiths and of no faiths, the inspiration for our work comes from the gospel. We know that poverty robs people of their dignity and lets it injustice thrive.
We believe that God has created every person in the world with gifts and talents, but we know that poverty takes away the ability of people to thrive and to become the full people God created them to be.
For me, this is the root of the line of the Lord’s prayer – give us today our daily bread. The sustenance we need not just to survive another day but because when we have the essential things we need to survive, we can use the gifts and talents God have given us to their fullest potential.
This is one of the reasons that inspires us to work to end poverty, through our long-term development projects that help people access the healthcare, education and training they need to leave poverty behind, and our disaster preparation and response work too.
Bread is a symbol of life and of right-relationship with the planet. When soil is healthy, and people have access to seeds and water then bread can be produced, and people can be fed. And daily bread is also a symbol of God’s continued provision of our bodies, of God’s care for our lives here on earth and not only for life everlasting. One of Christian Aid’s sayings is ‘we believe in life before death’, a saying that speaks most to that particular line in the Lord’s prayer – give us today our daily bread. Bread is also community – a sign of a meals shared with others – of togetherness and belonging.
So, I want to talk about bread, about food, as serving three purposes: bread as survival, bread as solidarity and bread as sustainability. I’d like to share with you a story about some our work in Burkina Faso where food is a matter of survival, and then tell you more about a special project in Iraq where food is bringing together communities torn apart by conflict and climate change – symbolising food as solidarity and sustainability.
In Burkina Faso the request for daily bread is a prayer too many have to make, not knowing where their daily nutritious food will come from.
Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest counties, almost half its 16 million citizens live below the poverty line. Because of the long-standing poverty of communities in Burkina Faso, one child in three is malnourished.
Christian Aid is working to change lives in Burkina Faso by training community nutrition workers and helping families to grow nutritious food in their market gardens. To tell you the story of just one family we work with – Colette lives in Burkina Faso with her husband and two daughters, but life has been hard for her.
She was forced to work at a gold mine every day to feed her family, work that is very exploitative and paid very little. Some days Colette would spend days at the mining site without finding any gold to sell. She made so little money that it was impossible to buy nutritious foods like vegetables and protein and so her and her children were diagnosed with malnutrition.
But, just when her future looked bleak, Colette found her hope through a market garden project supported by Christian Aid. Her and her husband were trained in how to plant and grow crops and were provided with essential gardening tools and seeds. Now Collette produces enough nutritious food to feed herself and her family, they are no longer malnourished, and she has enough left over to sell to pay for healthcare and clothes for her girls and plans to extend her garden to pay for her children to go to school. We continue to pray for Collette and for the work of our partners in Burkina Faso, that they have the resources they need to fight malnutrition so that everybody can flourish.
The support of churches here in the UK, has helped answer the prayer for daily bread for Colette and her family, and not just bread to survive, but bread to transform lives.
Daily bread is also a matter of solidarity and sustainability.
Climate change, natural disasters and conflict has led to over 65 million people in the world being displaced from their homes, and living either on the move, or in host communities, camps or at check-points, living with food insecurity.
When I was thinking of food as solidarity and sustainability, one project came to the top of my mind.
It’s a cucumber farming project in Northern Iraq.
The people of Iraq have been through decades of devastation, displacement and uncertainty. War after war have inflicted a continuous humanitarian crisis on the country and the rise of so-called Islamic State in 2014 has forced millions to flee once again.
Safer parts of the country, such as Kurdistan, have hosted millions of those displaced from Iraq. At the same time the war in Syria has seen millions of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and Kurdistan is hosting these people as well.
Christian Aid is working through partners to respond to this crisis. They have reached more than 250,000 people with essentials, but they are also working on building relationships with host communities as well as with people who have had to flee.
A quarter of a million people is too many people to imagine, but to let you know more about the impact on just two people, I’d like to let you know about two men, one called Rashid and one called Arrak, both from difference communities facing very different problems, but who are now unexpectedly working together to produce their daily bread.
Rashid Mohamed has lived in his village in Kurdistan all his life. He is now 55 years old with nine children, most of whom have grown up and moved to the cities for work because there is no work in his village and changes in the climate has made it too difficult to farm. Three of his children still live at home.
Rashid says, “We used to have 100 families living here but now we have only ten families because of the drought and lack of opportunities. The biggest problem here now is lack of water. I used to have a lot of sheep but now I have had to get rid of them because there wasn’t enough grazing or water for them. All around here used to be fruit trees and farm land and it has all dried up now. Now we only have a few trees that we have to water – which we use for own use.”
The village went from being a real community with hundred families to their being only ten local families and now they are hosting 15 displaced families who have come from Rabbia at the border between Iraq and Syria. The new displaced families have been welcomed, and it is useful for the village to have help with sheep herding and farming because so many of the young people have gone.
The local Christian Aid partner organisation REACH have helped the local families as well as those who have been displaced to work together to find solutions to their problems. They have started a water source project, and provided sheep, cows and a kitchen garden. REACH has built the green houses and provided the first season of seeds as well as technical support from an agricultural engineer and farming training so that the village can start farming and growing food again, alongside their new neighbours.
One of their new neighbours is the second man I wanted to tell you about. His name is Arrak and he fled Mosul with his family in 2014. He was born in Mosul and had lived there all his life. He had a job as a taxi and lorry driver but had to leave his business and possessions behind in order to flee to safety. They left two days before the fall of Mosul to so-called Islamic State.
Arrak said, “We came here in 2014 after the fall of Mosul. I came with my wife and three children. I didn’t want to live under ISIS – and the situation was getting very bad so we decided to come because Mosul wasn’t safe. There was ISIS/militias and no rules. We could have been killed any day.”
Having heard there was a need for labour in the village, Arrak and his family came to this area. Rashid’s community has helped them and given them land in the village to farm together.
Arrak says, “We feel welcome here – and we live like the host community. If they struggle we all struggle – we feel at home here. We have had a good season and we are starting to get income which is good’
Together, with the help of their global neighbours here in UK, enough food is being produced for a poor village to thrive, and displaced people to find a new livelihood and a new home. I wonder if this type of shared life between Rahid and Arrak, this kind of solidarity and community of people living alongside each other, that has something very important to say about our prayers for daily bread,
And this prayer is getting harder to pray in the face of climate change because climate change really is loading the dice for poor harvests and disasters like cyclones and floods and droughts which decimate farming and provoke food scarcity.
That prayer I shared with you earlier – for those who are hungry, give bread. And to those who have bread, give a hunger for justice. – involves for many Christians who do have enough to eat, a hunger to tackle climate change.
Over the past year at Christian Aid we’ve been focusing on our Big Shift climate change campaign on encourage UK high street banks to move their investments away from big fossil fuel projects that cause great harm through creating climate change, but also often local environmental devastation in poor communities in the world. Instead we have been asking our high street banks to commit to investing more our funds in projects that will make the world and safer and cleaner place to live and prevent the worst effects of climate change – and those action are backed not only by charities like ours, but by economists. Climate change is good for no-one.
We’re also planning a big lobby in London on the 26 June, where Christian Aid supporters will be meeting up with their MP’s to talk about how important it is to us to end poverty through acting on climate change, and everyone is invited to come along.
For many Christians, taking actions to prevent the worst effects of climate change is an expression of the Latin American prayer I shared earlier – to those who are hungry give bread, and to those who have bread give a hunger for justice.
That hunger can take so many forms, either contemplative prayer or prayer through action, the decision to live simply or the commitment to support others either locally or globally.
Christian Aid is working around the world through projects like the ones I shared in Burkina Faso and Iraq and through our campaigning work here in the UK to help provide daily bread. Food for survival, sustenance and sustainability.
Thank you so much for everyone in this church who has supported Christian Aid’s work over many years, through your prayers and your giving, over the past 30 years your church has raised nearly sixteen thousand pounds for Christian Aid – funds that have helped provide essential sustenance for people in great need. Thank you.
Loving and almighty God,
We pray for all who are working to combat the growing food crisis:
For international aid agencies and local community organisations.
And in particular we pray for leaders
That all can act with wisdom and compassion
Bringing relief to those who suffer now
And moving us towards a world without hunger.
We pray for our sisters and brothers caught up in a cycle of drought and hunger:
for parents struggling to find food,
for farmers seeing their crops fail and livestock die.
May those of us with bread share generously from the abundance that you have given us
and join our voices with those who call for an end to poverty,
that lives may be saved and rebuilt with hope for the future.
May we act in your name and be an instrument of your grace.